Early in the week, the Youth Group played a game going round and round in a circle taking turns to notice or say something different about two pictures (of what they did not at first recognise to be the Annunciation). They then asked whether they could paint the scene themselves. Their ethereal Gabriel owes most to the twelfth century icon they had seen and even reflects the wooden panel on which it was painted. Their startled Mary owes most to John Collier’s modern painting of a schoolgirl and even reflects their noticing that Mary stands on a mat in both versions they had observed.
Later in the week, some adults at Grimsby Minster were taken through a different approach to Bible reading (developed by Janet Lees) which took the same care to get participants to look at every detail and respond on their own terms: small groups were tasked with remembering as much of the story as possible and their shared almost complete memories were fully set out before comparing these with the text itself to further notice what might have been missed or mis-remembered.
Unconscious thorough attention (or ‘close reading’) is what the two events had in common (as did post-it notes!).
The Bible reading (the theological educator from Christian Aid who led the session avoided the term ‘Bible study’) was the parable of the labourers in the vineyard from Matthew 20. As I look at it again now, I notice that it fits the pattern I’d noticed very recently here in the parables of the prodigal son and of the unjust steward in Luke 15 and 16. Matthew is explicit ‘the kingdom of heaven is like' a figure who may be God (the owner of the vineyard) relating to those others think of a wastrels (the unemployed hanging around on a street corner) and valuing them (paying them as if they were in full-time work) in a way which shocks observers (in our terms perhaps ‘hard working families’).
I also notice that the parable happens to be one unique to Matthew just as the parable of the prodigal son and of the unjust steward are unique to Luke – so this pattern is not simply a feature of either's editorial approach. Without breaking the Bible reading group’s agreed level of confidentiality, a lot of discussion of the parable of the labourers in the vineyard revolves around our understanding of fairness. It isn’t God’s understanding of fairness, and that is what we have got to get used to not being shocked by.